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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arrow: “Legacies”

Illustration for article titled Arrow: “Legacies”
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As Oliver learns tonight, there’s more to fighting crime than simply crossing out the names of rich people in his father’s book. Even more encouragingly, there’s quite a bit more going on in “Legacies” than the same old formula. John Diggle already ably demonstrated his usefulness to Oliver’s vigilante enterprise on a purely practical level back in “Damaged,” what with the whole “dressing up like Arrow and helping Oliver beat a murder charge” thing. But tonight’s episode reveals what he offers the show from a narrative perspective, as he challenges Oliver’s pointedly straightforward approach to what is and isn’t their crime-fighting business. Diggle’s sympathy for a wounded cop forces Oliver to take on the Royal Flush Gang—which I don’t believe they’re ever actually called during the episode, so it’s just convenient to use the name of their comic book inspiration—but it’s Oliver, not Diggle, who ultimately decides to treat these dangerous bank robbers with sympathy and restraint he rarely shows Starling City’s corrupt businessmen. Oliver is growing into a hero right before our eyes, and Arrow is quickly becoming more confident in its storytelling. It even just about makes all the Queen family subplots reasonably entertaining, which is no small feat.

In “Legacies,” Oliver doesn’t refer to his handy book of evil industrialists, partially because he soon realizes the man who failed the Reston family—and in the process turned them into the Royal Flush Gang—was his own father, who also pops up for some monumentally dickish hallucinations in our weekly flashbacks. Oliver tries to take a gentler touch with the Reston family, even offering patriarch Derek a job to replace the one that his father stole from him five years ago, but of course, he isn’t getting off the hook that easily. Meanwhile, Tommy seeks Thea’s advice in his renewed pursuit of Laurel, and Moira takes some time out from being all villainous and enigmatic with John Barrowman to focus on her non-relationship with Oliver.

This episode likely marks a pivotal point in Arrow’s evolution, because this is the first time that it really feels like Oliver is evolving into a hero, not simply a vigilante using questionable means to reach justifiable ends. He hasn’t adopted a “No Kill” rule just yet—and I’m guessing quite a few more fatalities still lie in his future—but it’s clear that his first priority during the final heist is to prevent anyone from getting killed, not simply to stop a robbery. Of course, he fails, as all budding heroes must when they try to stop a villain from self-destructing, but there’s an underlying altruism to his actions toward Derek Reston that feels different from his vigilantism in the preceding episodes. Perhaps it’s because, for once, he doesn’t seem entirely fueled by rage and inner turmoil, even if his actions are underscored by some of the most emotionally charged flashbacks yet.  Oliver’s handling of the gang also gives the show its best chance yet to delineate how this particular version of Green Arrow is more than just a more lethal version of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The Caped Crusader, after all, would never discriminate between different classes of criminals like Oliver does when he explains to Diggle why the Royal Flush Gang isn’t his concern. Heroes like Batman are driven by an all-consuming, borderline psychotic need for justice, but Oliver is a little different.

Vengeance against those who wronged Starling City is part of his motivation, and he’s also doing this as penance for his father’s sins, perhaps his own as well. While Diggle is clearly fine with busting some heads and kicking some ass if it means getting justice for the wounded cop, Oliver is inclined to fit the Royal Flush Gang’s actions into its larger social context, which leads him right back to his original mission of righting the wrongs of the Starling City elite. Indeed, Oliver never seems the least bit concerned about the robberies themselves—those banks are presumably insured, after all, so the average citizens aren’t actually being hurt by these crimes, that one critically injured cop notwithstanding—and it’s telling that he’s perfectly happy to simply buy off the gang. His offer to Derek Reston feels like something unique to the Arrow crime-fighting approach; certainly, I can’t quite see Batman making the same offer, but perhaps that’s because Bruce Wayne’s dad would never have screwed his employees out of their jobs and benefits. And then there’s Oliver’s contention that the Royal Flush Gang is a symptom, and he’s only interested in dealing with the root causes of crime. That sounds like the angry young vigilante version of what the older, goateed, radical lefty comic book Green Arrow might say.

The Royal Flush Gang is easily the show’s most successful attempt to integrate DC Comics villains into the world of Arrow. While Deadshot was largely a wasted opportunity, and Deathstroke hasn’t really made much of an impression in his appearances so far, the gang represents a workable blueprint for how to take outlandish comic book villains and transfer them to the more consciously realistic confines of the TV show. Oliver’s realization that he isn’t looking for a gang at all, but rather a family, is what makes the use of the Royal Flush Gang feel like more than just a crude co-opting of an existing DC property. Admittedly, most previous incarnations of the gang haven’t used that family angle, but it was the approach taken with the excellent Batman Beyond interpretation of the gang, so there’s some precedent for this. Either way, it does nicely tie in with the whole notion that this gang is at least vaguely supposed to line up with the royal family at the top of a suit of playing cards. That little bit of thematic resonance aside, the whole family angle is just generally a far more interesting take than simply having Arrow take on some random gang of hardened criminals. If the show is going to make this gang unusual by revealing that they’re actually a family, then it seems fitting to give them a visual gimmick that sets them apart as well. Certainly, it feels like a better match for the Royal Flash Gang than, say, giving Deadshot some curare-tipped bullets and calling it a day.

As for the rest of the episode—well, I can’t really claim that I care about whether Tommy can convince Laurel that he’s a decent guy, but it proves a painless enough subplot. The real success of the story comes in its handling of Thea, as her deeply awkward advances toward Tommy convey how damaged she is far better than simply another round of substance abuse. Arrow still hasn’t really demonstrated it has a clear idea of what to do with either Tommy or Thea, but at least “Legacies” digs a little deeper into who these characters are. Oliver’s almost total absence from the storyline is a good move, as it underscores that these characters have issues independent of him. As for Moira, it’s a nice touch that the episode once again ends with her disappearing off for yet another secret, late-night meeting… except this time it’s for cheeseburgers and milkshakes with her son. There might just be hope for her yet.


Stray observations:

  • My huge thanks to the inestimable Myles McNutt for filling in for me during my hurricane- and travel-related absences. His reviews added some great perspective to our ongoing Arrow discussion, and I’m now looking forward to taking you the rest of the way.
  • Technically, I suppose the robbers really can’t be called the Royal Flush Gang, as I’m pretty sure there are only four of them. Of course, since they no one actually calls them that during the episode, that would mostly just be a bookkeeping thing.
  • Derek Reston is the name of Ace in the second comic book version of the Royal Flush Gang. I wish I could say I knew this off the top of my head, but I learned that during my brush-up research on Wikipedia, which told me that the comic book Reston was “a superstrong android in the form of an African-American man.” Now I feel like we missed out on a superstrong android, and consequently feel vaguely disappointed.
  • Emily Bett Rickards continues to be a lot of fun as Felicity Smoak, hitting just the right balance between discretion and just straight-up calling Oliver out on his transparent bullshit.
  • To my fellow comic book nerds—what would people say is the iconic version of the Royal Flush Gang? Honestly, I’d have a hard time simply choosing between the two animated incarnations on Justice League and Batman Beyond.